Monday, August 22, 2005

Here's a portion of a shiur from Bet Midrash Virtuali an on-line mishnah course. It presents the etymology of Apikorus, a person who knows Jewish principles and practices but shamefully flouts them. (Although temperamentally suited, I am not knowledgeable enough to qualify). If, like me, you'd like to become less of an Am Ha-Aretz (ignoramus) you can subsribe to the e-lesson at Virtual Bet Midrash []. The current lessons are on ethics and all prior lessons are archived.


They [each] used to say three things. Rabbi Eli'ezer says: Let your colleague's honour be as dear to you as your own and do not give way to anger easily; repent one day before you die; warm yourself at the fire of the sages but be wary not to be burned by their embers: for their bite is the bite of a fox, their sting is the sting of a scorpion, their hiss is the hiss of a serpent - and their every word burning coals.

EXPLANATIONS (continued):

5:The second (or third) teaching of Rabbi Eli'ezer taught in our mishnah concerns repentance. Rather succinctly he tells us to "repent one day before you die". Clearly this means that we should repent of our sins daily, since no one knows the day of his death in advance. This is made clear when in the Gemara [Shabbat 153b] Rabbi Eli'ezer is questioned by his students about this teaching of his:

It is taught elsewhere [in Avot 2:11, as we know] that rabbi Eli'ezer says: "Repent one day before you die". His students questioned Rabbi Eli'ezer: "Does anyone know on what day he will die?" He responded: "Then he should certainly repent today lest he die tomorrow. Thus one will be in constant repentance."

6:Clearly this line of thought is the exact antithesis of the teaching of the Athenian philosopher Epicurus, who lived some 350 years before Rabbi Eli'ezer. Those who followed his philosophy are called Epicureans. Epicurus' disciples were enamoured with his doctrine and presented him with a garden at Athens. At the garden Epicurus began a school - almost a community of sorts - with men and women meeting as equals in discourse. After his death, Epicurus left his home and garden to be used as a headquarters for the Epicureans. They believed you were here today and gone tomorrow, so why not enjoy life while you can? "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow, we die." For them, the hedonistic idea of seeking pleasure was the main purpose in life. They did not deny the existence of any gods, but maintained they were totally indifferent to the affairs of men who were left to find pleasure as they could. The result of this is to have no fear of God and consequently they were given over to gross sensualism. It was this indifference to any kind of religious responsibility that eventually gave rise to the use by the sages of the epithet Apikoros (Epicurean) to anyone who scoffed at or rejected the idea of man's ethical responsibility.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The Elephant & My Jewish Problem

The Elephant and the Szonyi Question: David M. Szonyi gets up close and personal with an elephant at the Indianapolis Zoo. Fred and Beth Cate gave us and our family friend Daisy Baker a behind the scenes tour of the elephant barn during our excursion with Daisy. Szonyi is at pains to let our readers know that his cavorting with elephants has nothing to do with his political leanings.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Some bons mots from George Carlin

They keep talking about drafting a Constitution for Iraq. Why don't we just give them ours? It was written by a lot of really smart guys! It's worked for over 200 years and we're not using it anymore.

The real reason that we can't have the Ten Commandments in a Courthouse? You cannot post "Thou Shalt Not Steal," "Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery" and "Thou Shall Not Lie" in a building full of lawyers, judges and politicians! It creates a hostile work environment!

Boy, I feel a lot safer now that she's behind bars. O.J. Simpson and Kobe Bryant are still walking around; Osama Bin Laden too. But they take the one woman in America willing to cook, clean, and work in the yard, and haul her ass off to jail???

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Hello from SO

South Orange NJ, ancestral home of the Orensteins, where we are being wined and dined with abandon. Our vacation was initiated by a delay into Newark airport, a familiar if inauspicious beginning. Sz and I picked up Benster from SIG (the "gifted" program) and then, after an interminable awards ceremony and Goodbye Video (in which Ben figured prominently to some serious applause from his fellow gifted ones) we went to the Adlers for a lovely breakfast. We had an opportunity to schmooze and see pictures of Cape Town, and Mike and Beth, courtesy of Jeremy, Beth's brother who had just been visiting. With any luck we'll be posting some pictures soon. The Adlers were, in the unforgettable words of Sylvia Orenstein, a port in the storm, when we dropped off Ben during torrential rain. We had a magnificent visit with them on the return jouney as well (part of it spent napping by Ben).

Yesterday I took Phyllis, an old neighbor from when we lived in SO, to get Food Stamps. What an awful experience for everyone. I understand the need to recertify. I even understand the need not to make it too easy or pleasant for some shirkers. One woman in a loud voice proclaimed: "This is ridiculous! I am going to go get me a job." But others expressed concern about being late for work. Clearly people can be working their hardest and still need the support of food stamps. Surely for Phyllis, age 80+ the hardship is inexcusable. She is entirely deserving. Worked all her life, served as a WAC in WWII, and she doesn't have enough money to meet her very modest basic needs. The individual workers were actually quite nice, but the set-up was something out of Kafka with the clear message that if you're poor your time is valueless. Time is money, but the important variation obviously is that time is money for people with money. For the poor, their time is cheap.

Going out tonight with Svetlana for Vietnamese food in the city. Not going to the Korean Ladies because laguage barrier might cause injury to my sensitive calfs. Below is the story of the Korean ladies, which I shared with some of you when I first encountered them.

I have a window of time to prepare for next semester and most importantly RELAX
before the onslaught of exam-grading and the start of fall teaching. My partner in pedagogy, Melanie, who’s very cool both as a colleague and a commuting companion (suffice it to say that not everyone would read me the letters to the editors of People Magazine adding witty commentary), remarked that I didn’t seem sufficiently celebratory at the end of the summer. I was not, in her words "enjoying the moment." I took her criticism to heart and went to this place whose ad I saw in New York Magazine. Two hours of crazy bliss in Little Korea was the result. It began with written instructions in my locker: "strip yourself and enter haven." Oral instructions: "Key, fuck it" ended up meaning that I was supposed to put the locker key in my pocket. The two hours ended with my caretaker’s pointing to the sign about tipping being customary. In between, I sat in a steam sauna, a dried sauna, showered numerous times and was thoroughly roughed up by my caretaker (I couldn’t get her name) who slapped me with some very hot towels and held onto a bar on the ceiling as she tread on my back. By far the best and most unusual part was the exfoliation, accomplished with a scouring pad. It turns out that the thing that has been making me so cranky this summer was the top layer or two of my skin. Next came the baby oil phase where I was so slicked up there was a constant worry of my sliding off the table. All greased up this way, I was pretty easy to push around as my head was positioned for the facial and shampoo. With the skin gone and the rest of me cleaner than I have ever been in my life, I really did feel relaxed and baby-soft. If I had time, I would have gone out to dinner afterwards to make the afternoon of indulgence complete. But alas, Szonyi was having some computer problems and I was needed at home. I cannot overstate what a great and wild experience this spa was. Who’s game to join for my next trip? All the events happen in a room that is best analogized to a Loehman’s dressing room in Waterworld. There is a real feeling of sisterhood. And I don’t think the women in charge are as angry as
they actually sound barking out commands in the very limited English at their disposal. Although the experience was intensely relaxing and pampering, I hardly
felt like the ugly American; the power dynamic was at best ambiguous while my
caretaker was barking out orders and hosing me down dressed in a black bra and
panties. (Spring 2003)

Monday, August 01, 2005

Raf, the Entertainer

My brother Rafy, father
of those two cuties, Elliot &
Sam, performed the song,
Jehiel, sung to the tune of
Maria from West Side Story.

Raf was a hit!

Some notable lyrics:

Jehiel, I just met a man named Jehiel
He used to be Rabbi
But now he's just a guy
with a kippah

Jehiel, I just met a Jew named Jehiel
He's given up the bimah
A change in his life schema
For good

Now that you won't be officiating
You'll have time to improve your chess rating
How will the couples keep mating?

Jehiel he asked to play tennis Jehiel
I said I'd like to play
He said pick any day
This month.

Jehiel a man with both time and appeal

A Nancy-Reagan Like Beam

Sometimes she
does adore him

Greenberg Boyz Say HaMotzi

Not one of them
disgraced the family

Give Those Folks a Hand

Ema and Abba
received a standing
ovation at the big
retirement dinner
do. More pictures
to follow.